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WITHHELD PAYMENT RILES PLAYERS

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Relations between baseball players and owners took a turn for the worse when management decided not to make a payment of more than $7 million to the union's pension fund.

The sides are to bargain today in an effort to avert an Aug. 12 walkout and the sport's eighth work stoppage in 22 years.The No. 2 official of the Major League Baseball Players Association said Tuesday the pension decision was an "all-time low" and pushed the sides farther apart.

Management negotiator Richard Ravitch said the decision to skip the Aug. 1 payment was normal while sides are fighting over a labor agreement.

"This is absolutely an all-time low in my understanding of the negotiations in this industry," said Eugene Orza, the union's associate general counsel. "We'll have to talk it over with the players immediately. It may be predictable or understandable or go over with the public, but it won't go over with the players. It's one thing to play with the players; it's another to play with their wives and children."

Orza said the union was informed of the move Friday in a letter from Ravitch. He said union officials didn't disclose it immediately because they wanted to talk with management first, but a player allowed word to leak Tuesday.

"I think when you're in the midst of collective bargaining and there's no agreement, it's absolutely normal not to make a payment of this nature," Ravitch said.

Earlier in the day, union head Donald Fehr said he expected "no major breakthroughs" when the sides meet today and resume discussions about management's demand for a salary cap, which Fehr said players will resist "as long as it takes."

When asked if the latest development could cause players to move up the deadline, Orza responded: "I don't want to foreclose any options."

Under the four-year benefit agreement that expired March 19, owners were required to make $57 million a year in payments to the benefit plan. The remaining money each year is due in November, after the postseason.

Orza said that because the All-Star game was played, the August payment was owed to the plan. He claimed management's move was "of questionable legality."

Ravitch said that in the near term, benefits won't be affected by of the missed payment.

Tuesday, discussion groups involving both sides spent part of the day talking about scheduling and a joint drug agreement to replace one owners terminated in 1985.

"They were not completely unproductive meetings," Orza said. "The issues they deal with exist independent of what the economics of the sport are."

Fehr pushed Tuesday for owners to publicly disclose finances. Executive council chairman Bud Selig and Ravitch have repeatedly insisted 19 of the 28 teams will lose money in '94 but say there's no need to publicly release the list because the union has it.

"They don't want to make it public because they know there would be a public examination of various clubs and the subsidies they're negotiating with cities, and it wouldn't look good," Fehr said.